George Gage was killed last week as he walked along iconic Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa, a very public tragedy that authorities are correctly treating as a criminal act. His death understandably spurred a wave of community concern over the safety of Bayshore and its continued use as a mixed-use corridor heavily used by motorists, bikers and pedestrians. There is value in taking another look at how to improve public safety after such a terrible accident. But Bayshore serves two very different purposes — both of them typically well — and the city must be careful in balancing a dual use that is worth preserving.
The driver of the truck that hit Gage, 31-year-old Benjamin Douglas Ehas, told Tampa police officers he had downed a double shot of Fireball Cinnamon Whisky minutes before the crash. Witnesses told officers Ehas was driving 60 to 70 mph in a 35 mph zone. Authorities said his blood-alcohol level after the crash was 0.234. Florida law presumes a person is impaired at 0.08. Ehas was arrested at Tampa General Hospital two hours after the crash, and he faces charges of vehicular homicide and DUI manslaughter.
That authorities are attributing Gage’s death to someone else’s dangerous, illegal behavior doesn’t soften the loss of a man highly lauded in this community. But it should inform the conversation over — if anything — more to do with Bayshore, and what role the scenic corridor should play going forward.
A group of Bayshore-area residents are calling on the city to consider new safety improvements beyond the measures taken after Jessica Raubenolt, 24, and her 21-month-old daughter, Lillia, were killed there by a teenager speeding at up to 102 mph in May 2018. Those steps included lowering the speed limit to 35 mph from 40 mph, narrowing lanes and installing flashing signs at crosswalks. But some residents consider those changes to be inadequate, and they want an increased police presence, speed cameras, fencing or speed bumps and even consideration of turning Bayshore entirely into a park.
Converting Bayshore into a park is implausible. Tens of thousands of vehicles travel Bayshore daily, making it a vital corridor in and out of South Tampa. The safety improvements after the 2018 accident certainly have made Bayshore more pedestrian-friendly. But its long stretch and scenic views naturally draw pedestrians, and with virtually no water-side parking visitors are forced to cross traffic on the boulevard. While an increased police presence might deter speeding at times, how effective would periodic vigilance be in the long run, and what would extra staffing on Bayshore mean for security in other Tampa neighborhoods?
Bayshore is not Tampa’s most dangerous road. There are others more dangerous - Busch Boulevard, Hillsborough Avenue, to name two - where high speeds, multiples lanes, congested traffic, poor lighting, aging sidewalks, visual barriers and other shortcomings in road design and maintenance pose serious risks to motorists and pedestrians alike. Even the more extreme proposals for Bayshore — new barriers, fencing and speed humps — won’t offer full protection from motorists who break the law by speeding or driving while intoxicated.
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The city’s transportation director told the Tampa Bay Times Wednesday that officials are continuing to look at new safety improvements, but no projects are imminent. A deliberative approach is the right one. It’s appropriate to take another look at Bayshore in the wake of another fatal accident. But there is nothing to be gained by misplacing blame for horrible tragedies or creating a false sense of security.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.